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Dogs could be part of school security

By Greg Gelpi

Dogs could be called in to tighten school security, Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam announced as one option under consideration in response to a series of recent school safety concerns.

"I am not going to tolerate children who hurt children or children who hurt staff," Pulliam said.

Three Forest Park High School students were arrested after a math teacher was beaten at school last week, and two students were arrested when a gun was found at Jonesboro High School a week earlier, capping a string of school violence.

"I used the drug and bomb dogs while a superintendent in St. Louis Park (Minn.), Pulliam said. "There were great benefits from these programs. They helped our children and parents feel a lot more safer."

Although parents have asked about the possibility of using metal detectors in schools, Pulliam has expressed her dislike of the idea.

"Metal detectors is not a way I want to go," she said. "This is not something that I would wish for my students. I experienced them while a principal in the Chicago Public Schools. This is not what I want for my kids."

Mary Baker, who has a seventh-grader in the school system, said she would support whatever it takes to make schools safer.

"With the situations we have going on in the county, I would support having metal detectors," Baker said, calling them a "deterrent" to guns.

Speaking with her daughter about school violence, Baker said that the seventh-grader wouldn't find metal detectors intrusive since she goes through them at the airport and state Capitol.

"I just think it's a way of life," Baker said. "It's sad that it has come to this, but it has."

She said that she would also support the use of dogs in schools.

Although the Clayton County police don't have bomb-sniffing dogs, Capt. Jeff Turner said that drug dogs are available for school resource officers and the school system itself to call in to search schools and lockers.

A dog specifically trained to detect guns and bombs could cost from $8,000 to $12,000 for a dog with no experience, said Clayton County Police Det. Pete Thompson, the department's senior K-9 handler and training coordinator.

Turner said that dogs could possibly be called in from the Jonesboro Police Department, Atlanta Police Department and local military bases if needed.

Pulliam met with high school principals last week and asked that they devise a short-term plan to address school safety problems by the end of the year and a long-term plan for students to be implemented when they return from summer break. A report is expected to be submitted to Pulliam by the end of the week.

"I think it is an issue and we've said for a long time it's an issue," Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman said.

Every school needs "beefed-up" security, Chapman said, stressing the need for more "visible" security.

Overall, there needs to be more "respect" for the problem of school violence and a "reality" of how prominent gangs are in schools, he said.

As far as teacher safety, teaching is "always a risk," Chapman said, adding that there should be zero tolerance for violence against teachers.

"When you get into high school, you have some pretty big students, and they can do some harm," Chapman said.

Chapman and Baker said that parents need to be more involved in the schools.

"It comes back to good old-fashioned parenting," Baker said, citing the disrespect evident in the halls of schools. "That just wouldn't have been tolerated when I was in school. They're using four-letter words in music, so how can you expect them not to use them in school?"

Parents should know where their children are, who their friends are and what they are doing in school, she said. Communication with teachers is also essential.